Jesus too endured some followers with weak faith

Readings: Josh. 24.1-18; Ps. 34; Eph. 5 21-32; Jn. 6.60-69

Joshua and Jesus encountered people who were wavering in their faith. Joshua had served as a military lieutenant to Moses, succeeded Moses, and defeated various tribes east and west of the Jordan River. After the Israelites inherited the Holy Land, some Israelites yearned to serve the gods of the foreigners rather than to serve Yahweh. Joshua reminded the people: "If after all the good that God has done for you, you forsake the Lord and serve strange gods, he will do evil to you and destroy you." People who had been wavering had a change of heart, and the community replied, "We will serve the Lord, our God, and obey his voice."

Jesus too endured some followers with weak faith. For the past five weeks, we have been reading at Sunday Mass from St. John's Gospel, chapter 6. The chapter begins with Jesus multiplying five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men plus women and children, then walking over the turbulent sea to be with his apostles, then teaching that his words are the bread of life, and then declaring that "whoever feeds on my body and drinks my blood will have eternal life." Suddenly the mood changed. Some of his listeners in the synagogue say, "This is a hard saying. How can anyone take it seriously?" Many of his disciples broke away and "no longer accompanied him."

Why do some people believe and others do not believe? That phenomenon happened in 1200 BC with Joshua, in 30 AD with Jesus, and now in 2009 with our families, friends and neighbors. Granted, that faith is ultimately a gift from God. I trust, however, that God offers that gift to every person. What might we do to avail ourselves of the gift of faith?

First, remember what God has done for us. That is the message of Joshua's farewell speech. That is the message of John chapter 6. Empires and institutions have come and gone, but Judaism and Christianity, along with Hinduism and Buddhism, have remained over the last two thousand years. Judaism and Christianity are the only two world religions which proclaim that God had founded them; all other world religions and denominations were founded by mere mortals. Reflect on the empires that have passed into oblivion since Jesus' time include: in Europe, the Roman, Byzantine, and Holy Roman Empires; in Asia, Genghis Khan's Mongolian Empire, the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Ottoman Empires; in Africa at famous Timbuktu the Songhai Empire; in Central and South America the Mayan, Incan and Aztec Empires; and worldwide, the trading empires of Spain and Portugal, and the colonizing empire of Britain. All of these empires have come and gone. Judaism and Christianity, represented by the Catholic Church, continue by the providential grace of God. I expect that the United States government and Western Civilization will not survive unless each returns to the ways of God, whose ways our governments radically have rejected. We have been on a slippery slope for decades. Do not think that the USA will last forever.

Second, to grow in faith it is important to read the sources of our faith: the Scriptures first, then the lives and teachings of the saints, the writings of the Church Fathers, the popes' encyclicals, our Catholic newspapers, magazines and websites. Just as we become what we eat and drink, so too we become what we read and watch. Watch, therefore, good shows. Devour, therefore, good reading, not junk.

Third, pray with God throughout each day: at morning, noon, and night; at grace before meals, before important decisions, and to keep our mouths shut and not say bad or wrong things. The foundation of relationship is communication. Pour out your heart to God. The gospels say repeatedly that Jesus sees the hearts of people; let Jesus see your heart. At the same time, may you look at and into Jesus' heart. Ask your questions to God. And stay around for the answer. I have met a few people who question everything but who do not stay around five minutes for the answer. Complex questions require more than a sound-bite answer. Questions and answers are a two-way street. Also, if you have a doctorate degree in physics and a grade school Catholic education, your religious education has not kept pace with your professional education. Ask your questions. Pray quietly. Pope St. Pius X says that the quickest and safest way to heaven is to receive the Eucharist. Receive this sacrament, and ponder this sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration.

Fourth, yield humbly to Church authorities when the Church presents its doctrinal, moral and spiritual teachings. Some people think that they know more than me; maybe? But these people do not know more than the bishops, the cardinals, and the popes. I have met some few people who act as if they know more than God. Be humble. There is no growth in the spiritual life without humbly yielding to the Scriptures and the teaching office of the Church.

Fifth and finally, know your personality. What holds you back from growing in faith? Me? I like to keep busy; even when I go to chapel or church I have a hard time slowing down my mind and heart. Literally, I have to take deep breaths to try to slow myself down. What about your personality? What holds you back from growing in faith? Some people read nothing and ask no questions. Some people ask questions but reject the answers. Some people have anti-authority problems, even when the authorities are to Church officials and God. Know yourself. May I make one suggestion: be able to laugh at yourself, and don't take yourself too seriously.

In conclusion, remember what God has done for his people and his Church. Read and reflect on the sources and explanations of our faith. Pray quietly and honestly. Humbly yield to Church authorities. Know your own personality, and don't take yourself too seriously. Let God's grace work in and through you. This is how we either grow in faith or, by choosing not to take these means, to lose our faith. May our individual and communal response be the same as Joshua's people: "We will serve the Lord, our God, and obey his voice."

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley